Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio Launches Education Project, Signs US$ 66 Million Education Multi Donor Trust Fund

Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education has launched the Sierra Leone Education Project and signed a US$ 66 Million 5- year Multi Donor Trust Fund to boost the Free education Programme.

Representatives from international agencies, governments and national stakeholders at the launching programme

The Vice President, Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, said that the launch of the education project by the World Bank, Irish Aid, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the European Union, EU, showed the importance of partnership in supporting the vision of president Bio.

“Today every Sierra Leonean kid wants to be in school. That explains clearly the Free Education Programme has created a tremendous impact. This has, no doubt, given reasons to His Excellency’s vision to prioritise human capital development as the bedrock of the New Direction Government,” he noted.

The World Bank Country Manager, Gayle Martin, said they were happy to celebrate the first day of the start of the new school term with the launching of the Sierra Leone Education Project, as well as signing the Education Multi Donor Trust Fund with development partners.

She noted that with Government’s flagship Free Quality Education Programme, the project would be a five-year support to primary and secondary education nationwide, adding that in particular the aim was to improve the management of the education system, teaching practice and learning conditions.

“Education is the single-most important determinant of economic mobility and the importance of investing in education cannot be overemphasized. The World Bank congratulates the efforts of the government of Sierra Leone, the leadership of President Bio in placing education and human capital development, more generally, at the centre of the national development agenda, as articulated in the National Development Plan, and also as reflected in budget allocations since 2018, under challenging macro-fiscal conditions,” she noted.

Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Dr Moinina David Sengeh, said that the event showed a celebration of the education sector as they witnessed the formal kick-off of the Free Education Project. He recalled that when he took up office the first challenge was to restructure the ministry so that it could absorb resources, engage partners and deliver education services to all children; digitalize the ministry through technology that would help do work better; help school leaders lead better, help teacher teach better and also help pupils to learn better.

”I am pleased to report to your Excellency that not only do you have a ministry fit for purpose, we even have an entirely new directorate called Partnership and Resource Mobilization. We cannot deliver effective services without the right global and local partnerships and efficient resource mobilization approaches. Today is a bold step marker under our belief as a ministry as we reaffirm our partnerships with the World Bank, Irish Aid, the EU, and the Foreign and Commonwealth and Development Office,” he explained.

Dr Sengeh further stated that regardless of the many challenges the world had faced, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry recorded many gains, adding that they would continue to work and consult with partners, children, civil society and the private sector.

“We will continue to evolve and transform with evidence data. We are, more than ever, motivated and ready to deliver on our mandate and completely transform the education sector in Sierra Leone,” he assured.

How Rwanda is spurring a generation of women in technology

In 2020, it was the only African country ranked in the top 10 of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report.

It ranked in the top four in the Report’s political empowerment category, in recognition of the high proportion of Rwandese women lawmakers and ministers.

The country therefore seemed a natural fit for a 2018 pilot program of the African Development Bank’s Coding for Employment initiative, with Nigeria, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.

The Coding for Employment flagship program is establishing 130 ICT centers for excellence in Africa, training 234,000 youths for employability and entrepreneurship to create over 9 million jobs.

Hendrina C. Doroba, Manager in the Education, Human Capital and Employment Division at the Bank, explains how Rwanda is empowering women in technology.

How has the government of Rwanda enabled women to pursue careers in technology, and STEM in general?

The government of Rwanda has been a foremost champion of women in ICT and in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (also known as STEM), by driving initiatives like the establishment of the Carnegie Mellon University-Africa campus, for which the Bank provided funding. Students from 17 different countries pursue highly specialized ICT skills at the Africa campus.

The country also hosts the African Institute of Mathematics (AIMS) which is now recruiting balanced cohorts of women and men. Lastly, the Bank-funded University of Rwanda College of Science and Technology has for many years produced women leaders in the ICT sector in Rwanda and globally.

Rwanda’s government also supports initiatives such as the Miss Geek Rwanda competition, an initiative of Girls in ICT Rwanda, which aims to encourage school-age girls, even those in remote areas, to develop innovative tech or business ideas and to generally immerse themselves in ICT. The Miss Geek initiative has now been rolled out in other countries in the region.

What role has the Bank played in supporting Rwanda’s digital strategy, especially in relation to women?

The strategy of the Bank’s Coding for Employment center of excellence in Rwanda has been to join forces with the Rwanda Coding Academy through a grant agreement to support the school’s activities, like ICT equipment, teacher training and career orientation. The Rwanda Coding Academy started in January 2019 and has so far enrolled one cohort, which is now going into their second year.

Besides the Rwanda Coding Academy, the Bank’s Coding for Employment program held a two-day masterclass for girls and young women entrepreneurs at the 2018 Youth Conneckt summit, where over 200 beneficiaries were trained in using digital tools to amplify their businesses. The session was attended by women entrepreneurs as well as students from girl schools in Kigali, including those from White Dove School, which is an all-girl school fully dedicated to training in ICT. The masterclass culminated into a pitching exercises from various groups who presented their ideas to a panel of judges.

What lessons can other African countries learn from Rwanda’s approach to the 4IR, in particular the role of women?

The government of Rwanda has been a trailblazer in using innovation to improve public services across the country using the e-governance platform Irembo, to bring government services closer to citizens. In addition, the government is driving national digital skilling campaigns by championing digital ambassador programs and platforms such as Smart Africa, which has organized the annual Transform Africa summit since 2013.

Still, gender equality remains a concern, and gender gaps are evident even in schools. Rwanda’s ambitions extend to piloting the Kigali Innovation City, also Bank-funded, to serve as the country’s knowledge and innovation hub by attracting new businesses and incubating ideas. At the same time, the country has created a business environment which is pro-entrepreneurship and welcomes global inventors to test their ideas and concepts. Zipline, a company which uses drones to deliver medical supplies in remote areas, is one example.

Lastly, Rwanda promotes women leaders in the ICT and innovation sector. The country’s Minister of ICT and Innovation is a woman, as is the CEO of the Irembo platform. Appointments such as these are helping to dispel the myth that women are not as capable as men in ICT.

Sewa Energy Resources Limited Donates 20,000 Solar Lamps to Support Free Quality Education in Sierra Leone

Chief Executive Officer of Sewa Energy Resources Limited, Kofie Macauley, On Wednesday presented 20,000 solar lamps, worth Le 4 billion, to His Excellency President Dr. Julius Maada Bio as part of their support to government’s free quality education program.

Minister of Energy, Alhaji Kanja Sesay, said the company was one of their partners, especially in the renewable energy sector. He noted that the lamps would help to create immediate energy access especially for children in rural areas, adding that the lamps were cheap and maintenance almost free.

The company CEO said that the move was part of their efforts to look at life after the Coronavirus. He said that in collaboration with the energy ministry, they thought about providing solar lamps for deprived school children in rural communities, noting that that was a good effort to get them back into their schoolwork mode.

“These lights are waterproof and the battery life lasts for about ten years if properly charged. We believe that we should be able to get these lights across to every child in this country who needs to read at night. As an indigenous partner in the energy sector, we believe that supporting local businesses is where results are needed to achieve long term and sustainable goals within the country,” he said.

On his part, President Bio thanked the Sewa Group for being a partner to the country’s energy sector, saying that the lamps would help to increase the study time for students, especially those in rural communities. He also noted that his government had prioritised education as the best way of investing in the future, adding that the lamps would complement those efforts.

The lamps are being utilised across the world – in disaster zone areas and across sub-Saharan Africa. They are very light in weight, waterproof and solar-powered. Easy to use and recharge and specifically ideal for rural community areas where there is limited or no electricity access.

Sierra Leone President Engages Education Stakeholders

Sierra Leone president Julius Maada Bio has engaged the country’s education stakeholders on his human capital development drive and called for more transformation and innovation in the country’s education sector. 

The Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Dr Moinina David Sengeh, said the President has informed challenge them to think outside the box. He said they have put together some of the best minds in education and are exploring different ways to the problems affecting the sector. 

He also noted that since the introduction of the free education programme in 2018, parents are now confident in sending their kids to school, with significant Increasing in the attendance. 

President Bio said there was a need to think about what was needed for the children, which should also start by getting them the right education from the early stage.

“Our children are going to be living in a highly digital and interconnected world. So, we have to set the foundation and empower them now with the required skills to be useful. I think we need to be transformational and innovative. We have to think now about how our children can be meaningful and can be able to contribute to national development,” he said.

President Bio Engages Director-General of UNESCO on the Free Quality Education, DSTI

Sierra Leone President Bio has engaged the Director-General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Audrey Azoulay, on the significant impact of the Free Quality Education Programme and the establishment of the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation, DSTI.

During the engagement on the margins of the 40th Session of UNESCO’s General
Conference, the President also disclosed his government had prioritised education as the foundation to support all other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

President Bio said investment in education was an investment into the future and not about winning votes, noting that the expansion of the country’s fibre optic was in readiness for digital education. President Bio also highlighted the government’s commitment to improving heritage sites, biodiversity and culture in Sierra Leone.

On her part, the UNESCO Director-General commended the President for prioritising
education, particularly access to universal education and girls’ education. She spoke about the ongoing collaboration between her organisation and the government on a diagnostic of the education system.

Ms Azoulay also informed the President that UNESCO would support various areas
such as providing technical assistance to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture,
support for planning and advocacy for more funding, support for teacher professional development and curriculum development and partner on Artificial

Earlier, His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio also took part in a high-level panel discussion on the theme: “Youth Perspectives on Multilateralism”. During the discussion, he called for young people to be involved in the governance of the state and be agents of multilateralism.

WAEC exams and the shaming of the nation of Sierra Leone

By Isaac Massaquoi

If we miss this opportunity to clean up the conduct of our public exams and the process by which the WAEC office in Sierra Leone conducts them, we should simply put up our hands and surrender to the dark forces of corruption and unbridled criminality who for long have been attacking our national integrity system at its very foundation.

Isaac Massaquoi

The last institution to allow itself to be taken over by the criminal underworld is WAEC given the importance of the certificates they offer to millions of Sierra Leoneans who end up in leadership positions in this country and abroad.

A suffocating blend of sophisticated criminal elements ably supported by some rogue WAEC staff, school authorities including teachers, and desperate parents and pupils is wreaking havoc on our education system. These groups have conspired to cheat at all public exams, particularly the Senior Secondary School exams, which open the way to universities. This is big money business in which the abuse of modern technology and barefaced criminal tactics are the main ingredients.

I am satisfied with the utter outrage expressed by many Sierra Leoneans on social media about the disgraceful turn of events where from what we are now hearing from the police and other sources, some pupils decided to abandon their exams and stage an utterly senseless demonstration, attacking some public facilities and innocent people because the police broke up their criminal enterprise organized from a particular property in the general area of Oniel Street near Sierra Leone Muslim Brotherhood.

We also heard from video recordings some of the pupils saying the mathematics paper was too difficult. Some even threw it into the political by accusing President Bio of being behind the “difficult exams”. Nothing can be more ludicrous! So the man who brought Free Quality Education and is spending a huge amount from the annual budget to fix education, is the same man who told WAEC examiners to make the exams so difficult that pupils would fail en masse so pupils would have to repeat the same class three or four times? This is insanity!   

We were driving down the hill from Fourah Bay College in a rickety old Mazda car on that day and saw about dozens of pupils running in all directions, while a handful of others were pelting stones at a small number of police officers from the Operational Support Division who had apparently fired tear gas into the crowd of pupils that dispersed all over the place as we approached the gates of Muslim Brotherhood Secondary School.
I saw a girl of about 17 years, being carried out of the school compound by two men who laid here in front of a small carpentry shop just across the road. Another girl of the same age was being taken away by a soldier almost as if she was under arrest. Just as some onlookers became interested in this sweating soldier taking away a distraught and crying girl and started asking questions while advancing menacingly, the girl shouted out to alert the crowd that the soldier was in fact her father. They immediately backed off. The soldier did not say a word.

When we finally made our way to Model junction by the Hillside By-pass road, the scale of what had happened became very clear. The pupils thrashed the whole place and roadside hawkers and ordinary people going about their normal business were obviously very badly affected.
This is the time we must confront some uncomfortable truths about what is happening in our schools. And colleges I should add. I am in a position to know how far the University of Sierra Leone for example has come in dealing with attempts to cheat at exams. A lot of work has gone into that effort – like sacking some rogue lecturers who lost their sense of mission and fell prey to student bribery, using CCTV technology to support other measures in place now. All of that came out of a ruthless review of systems and procedures, the kind of which we understand WAEC is blocking even when offered by a credible and professional body like the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Maybe we should erect huge billboards all over Sierra Leone telling our younger ones that there is only one sure way of passing any exam – they must study hard. Yes study hard as opposed to spending hours looking for money and sitting in dark corners plotting on how to use smart phones to cheat. We are living in times when movies, social media chats and mindless ‘chilling’ – hanging around entertainment spots doing nothing are the normal. Close supervision of young people by parents in particular is non-existent these days as the struggle for basic survival has become a 24-hour thing.

Parents appear to be under so much pressure to see their children in university that they are sometimes ready to spend a whole month’s house maintenance money on sending their children to very dangerous examination study camps organized by schools all over the city. What is really being taught in those camps that cannot be taught in normal schools is something people don’t understand.
I am inclined to side with those who say all the brazen acts of cheating going on these days are planned in those camps and executed by rogue teachers and exams officials. I don’t know if civil liberty questions would come up but a government policy banning those camps will be in place as a warning shot announcing the government’s seriousness about destroying the criminal network around WAEC exams.

As a further sign that the nation would no longer accept cheating in public exams, those now arrested and detained should be swiftly prosecuted and jailed if found guilty. Any negotiated release of possible criminals to satisfy some interests will be resisted. In other words if this goes the way of the Aberdeen case, then the whole business of killing corruption in WAEC exams would descend into a farce of ignominious proportions.
We must also have a parliamentary debate on the issue because it is so serious now that cheating pupils have become so brave that they can come to the streets to challenge the forces of law and order. In that debate MPs must avoid the intemperate language of partisan politics to confront this evil as one nation. That debate should be carried live on all radio and TV stations throughout the country and the resolutions should implemented in a quick and unambiguous manner with the necessary resources provided.

We have to be honest with this organization: It is not in anybody’s interest to see WAEC fail. But today, their credibility is sinking and if they don’t act really fast they may hit the sea bed. And bringing them back to the surface might be so expensive and time-consuming that we may simply allow those who presided over this titanic mess to remain on the sea bed while we put together a new and credible leadership for this exams body. What’s the point of having an examinations body that nobody trusts and whose certificates universities even in the sub-region would reject?

WAEC should stop paying their examiners those ridiculous service fees and weed out the rogues from their ranks – both staff at headquarters and contractors. And this practice of pupils taking exams in their normal school classrooms must end immediately. We must return to what happened many years back when only schools with the requisite facilities were used as centers and pupils made to take their exams out of their schools.
I know the numbers are big now but we are facing a dangerous enemy within that is difficult to dislodge, but dislodge it we must. Many people are happy about Free Quality Education. Yes Free at the point of access, but in the course of achieving the Quality this government should never allow political expediency to compel them to compromise in their fight against the criminals in the system who, it appears, now have nowhere to run or hide.

As I was writing this piece the information was coming through about horror show what the pupils acted out in a community around Waterloo. A day of shame indeed. 

Are robots sexist? UN report shows gender bias in talking digital tech

World Bank/Charlotte Kesl
Two schoolgirls make use of classroom computers at San Jose, a rural secondary school in La Ceja del Tambo, Antioquia, Colombia.

Why do most voice assistants have female names, and why do they have submissive personalities? The answer, says a new report released on Friday by UNESCO, the UN’s Education, Science and Culture agency, is that there are hardly any women working in the technical teams that develop these services and other cutting-edge digital tools.

The publication, produced in collaboration with the Germany Government and the EQUALS Skills Coalition – an alliance of public and private sector partners which encourages the involvement of women and girls in scientific and digital technology sectors – is called “I’d Blush If I Could.”

The title is a reference to the standard answer given by the default female-voice of Apple’s digital assistant, Siri, in response to insults from users. Apart from Siri, other “female” voice assistants also express submissive traits, an expression of the gender bias built in to Artificial Intelligence (AI) products as a result of what UNESCO calls the “stark gender-imbalances in skills, education and the technology sector.”

Several recommendations are made in the study, including advice to stop making digital assistants female by default; programming them to discourage gender-based insults and abusive language; and developing the advanced technical skills of women and girls so they can steer the creation of new technologies alongside men.

Given the explosive growth of voice assistants, says the report, there is an urgent necessity to help more women and girls cultivate strong digital skills.

Bridging the digital gender gap is an issue for all countries

Today, women are extremely under-represented in teams developing AI tools: women make up only 12 percent of AI researchers, six percent of software developers, and are 13 times less likely to file ICT (information and communication technology) patents.

“Obedient and obliging machines that pretend to be women are entering our homes, cars and offices,” says Saniye Gülser Corat, Director of Gender Equality at UNESCO. “Their hardwired subservience influences how people speak to female voices and models how women respond to requests and express themselves. To change course, we need to pay much closer attention to how, when and whether AI technologies are gendered and, crucially, who is gendering them.”